Have you ever wanted to give someone a personalised beer can as a gift? Or perhaps you’d like a special one-off batch of cans for a wedding, birthday party, corporate event, or work Christmas do?

In what is one of the best ideas I’ve seen in recent years, Colab Brewing in Dome Forest near Warkworth, have a new canning machine that allows you to put your own personalised label on their beer — and you don’t even have to order that many, with a dozen being the starting point.

 It’s a bit like the services offered by printing companies, such as Vista Print, where you upload your artwork for business cards, postcards, posters etc.

Previously the idea of personalised cans would have involved a large batch of contract brewed beer, which you can also do at Colab, but the small and nimble nature of the Zanz canning machine that Colab are helping develop, makes it easy to run off a batch of beer with your own artwork on display.

Colab brewer-owner Heidi Crockett started working with Zanz as a development partner last year. The company is based in Matakana, not far from Colab, so the relationship made sense. Zanz are also working with Three Sisters in New Plymouth and Coromandel Brewing to develop and test their new machine.

Crockett says in this early stage the machine can run off 8-10 cans per minute and will eventually go to 300-plus.

“It’s a small machine — the size of a coffee machine, and it’s designed for a small brewery,” she says.

The machine uses AI to create the right settings for a canning run based on the style of beer and keeps a swag of data about each batch.

“A couple of years ago, Zanz approached us about a canning machine. A lot of it was our location. The main designer lives just past Matakana, so they can come here and work with us and then go home and work on the design.”

Anyone who orders personalised cans needs to pick which of Colab’s six core beers they want — US lager, Kiwi-style draught, pale ale, XPA, West Coast IPA or Hazy IPA. “You choose the beer, design the label and we print it and roll it on.

personalise your beer

“If you want to send your dad a present, you can order a dozen cans with his picture on it and a message.”

Pricing starts at $54 for a dozen cans and goes up to $59 for the hoppier, higher ABV beers. And Crockett says bigger orders come with a different pricing model.

“But it’s not massively different from what you’d pay for craft beer in the supermarket. It’s a super-affordable way to have some fun.”

Crockett says the idea came when she was challenged about Colab’s point of difference in a crowded brewing industry.

“I was doing a small business course — in my previous life I used to run call centres, and I was used to a highly structured environment, and I was struggling a bit.

“And someone asked the question: ‘Why would I buy your beer over Sawmill or 8 Wired?’ who are also in the area. And I didn’t know how to answer that. I had to come up with something different rather than chasing these guys in same pubs.”

The DIY labels can work at a myriad of levels and Crockett sees it becoming a strong part of the brewery’s business model.

“It’s a different offer and there’s a whole range of places we can do this and just be different. We will still try to get our beer on taps at various pubs but one of our main focuses is this side of the business.”

Heidi and her husband Martyn came into the brewing industry when they bought Colab off Jason Ekins and Danny Keene in 2020.

personalise your beer

The original Colab started in Riverhead, north-west Auckland, in 2015, and one of the reasons the Crocketts bought the brand, rather than just the physical brewery, was for the recipes and the existing client base.

“The brewery hadn’t worked out for them so we bought the brewery kit and brand and moved it to Dome Forest.”

There was a handover period during Covid when Heidi, with some home brew background and a degree in analytical chemistry, learned how to brew on the system and Martyn applied his electrical engineering skills to the project.

The start of Covid, of course, wasn’t the best time to buy a brewery.

“It was a huge learning curve — learning to brew and learning to run a business during Covid — but it’s all going to work out.”

Martyn still works a full-time job as well putting in time with the brand, and Crockett says the time has come to bring in more people, especially as they’ve recently installed a new brewhouse and are upping the capacity.

“We’ve had a couple of big weeks and we’re feeling it.”

For more information: www.sayitwithbeers.co.nz